I sit right across from a coworker who frequently thinks out loud by talking to me whenever she feels like it. It might be helping her, but it sure isn’t helping me—it really slows down my productivity and ability to think for myself! I need more quiet in order to work.
I listen a little because I want to get along with my work neighbor, but sometimes I just turn away. Still, she is not getting the message. She talks and talks.
I want her to stop doing this so much, but I can’t think of a way to ask for what I need without coming off as rude or antisocial. I tend to shy away from rocking the boat, but I know it’s a problem for me.
~Shhhh in Seattle
Hmm, you’ve got quite the mismatch between your work style and your colleague’s work style. I feel for you. And I’ve been there. Close quarters without enough quiet can be hard on us introverts.
I understand that you want to get your work done and you want to get along with your coworker. Both of those needs are important, and they seem contradictory to you right now. There is a way, however, to have some quiet and still be friendly.
Many introverts find it tough to be productive if there isn’t enough quiet. Many extroverts, on the other hand, need to talk out loud in order to think clearly and be productive. No one is right or wrong—we’re just different.
That difference is what’s playing out with your coworker: your productivity needs are different from her productivity needs. Even though both your needs are totally normal and valid, that doesn’t mean they work well together. That’s why a conversation here is so necessary.
You can say what you need in a way that feels kind to your coworker—something she is likely to respond well to.
Here are some tips for initiating a productive and kind conversation:
Put it all together, and here’s how it might sound when you first bring it up:
“I appreciate that you answer questions for me sometimes, and I’m happy to help you out too. To concentrate well on my work, I need long stretches of quiet. I would like to talk through this with you, including hearing what you need, and then let’s come up with a solution that works for both of us. Does that sound okay to you?”
If the conversation doesn’t help resolve things, you still have other options. You’re well within your rights to seek help from your manager. Maybe you could request a desk change or ask to work from home. More and more companies are starting to understand that many people need quiet in order to be productive.
I’ve heard from many people who have been surprised by how much their managers wanted to help find the best fit for their needs. After all, they want you to be productive.
I know there are some bosses who just don’t seem to care, and that’s when you can start a new fashion trend with a sparkly pair of headphones. When I worked in a noisy cubicle environment, I eventually had to take the leap and get a new job. I bet negotiating your space will go more easily for you.
Readers, I’m sure some of you have dealt with the same issue. What has worked for you?